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Trump And The White House Barely Acknowledged John McCain's Death

The president had a long-running feud with the Arizona senator.

Last updated on August 27, 2018, at 4:19 p.m. ET

Posted on August 27, 2018, at 11:26 a.m. ET

John McCain — a veteran US senator who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam as a young Navy pilot — died over the weekend from brain cancer.

Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images

Some of the most prominent figures in the US released powerful and touching statements, including former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who both ran against McCain for the nation's highest office.

Tim Sloan / AFP / Getty Images

"Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did," Obama wrote.

Our statement on the passing of Senator John McCain:

"John McCain was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order," Bush wrote.

"Some lives are so vivid, it is difficult to imagine them ended. Some voices are so vibrant, it is hard to think of them stilled. John McCain was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order.” [...] Full statement by President George W. Bush https://t.co/FQVYWIUyGL https://t.co/W8LCxJXRLi

And then Trump's statement came in.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

It was this tweet:

My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!

Many people pointed out that it didn't address McCain's life at all.

My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!

Trump's statement was also posted to Instagram.

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People immediately noticed that the photo...is of Trump, not McCain.

Only @realDonaldTrump would post his condolences to the family of John McCain with a photo of himself.

And here's the White House's memorial on Instagram.

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Some found it...very basic.

Yes, White House Instagram, that is how long John McCain lived.

Even when asked by reporters multiple times on Monday to comment on McCain's legacy, the president remained mum and...looked like this.

Pres Trump declined to answer questions at the end of the announcement. Was asked to reflect on the legacy of Sen. McCain, but declined. Sat silent and cross-armed as press pool herded out of the Oval Office. https://t.co/Yzmqnxq14M

"Do you have any thoughts on John McCain?" a reporter pressed.

"No," Trump responded curtly.

The reporter asked the same question again and then followed up with: "Do you believe John McCain was a hero, sir?"

Trump again ignored him and Melania made this face.

Then there's the question of the American flag. Here it is over the Capitol on Monday, flying respectfully at half-staff to honor McCain.

Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

And here it is at the White House on Monday, fully up.

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

White House reporters noted that the flag appears to have been intentionally brought back up — it was at half-staff over the weekend. They also noted Trump hasn't issued a proclamation, as he has done in the past for other notable deaths.

Flags at the White House were lowered to half staff this weekend for the passing of John McCain but this morning they are back to full staff. There was no official proclamation from President Trump (as he has done in the past for other notable figures passing) https://t.co/rmUO6xbtrp

Quite a lot of other places still have their flags flying at half-staff, including Tampa, Florida...

Today, we honor the memory of Senator John McCain. @HCSOSheriff flags are being flown at half-staff. May he rest in peace eternally. https://t.co/1qg3v9d8NX

...and Harford County, Maryland.

From the MD Secretary of State: Flag Status Alert: Maryland State Flag is at Half-Staff This is to advise that Governor Larry Hogan ordered the Maryland State Flag lowered to half-staff effective immediately in honor of U.S. Sen. John McCain who passed away on Sat., August 25. https://t.co/4XlEQ4fAu2

And then — after mounting criticism — the flag was back at half-staff Monday afternoon.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

And then, after nearly two days, the White House issued a lengthier statement on McCain's service, while also explaining the decision to (again) lower the US flag "until the day of his interment."

Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country and, in his honor, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his interment.

I have asked Vice President Mike Pence to offer an address at the ceremony honoring Senator McCain at the United States Capitol this Friday.

At the request of the McCain family, I have also authorized military transportation of Senator McCain’s remains from Arizona to Washington, D.C., military pallbearers and band support, and a horse and caisson transport during the service at the United States Naval Academy.

Finally, I have asked General John Kelly, Secretary James Mattis, and Ambassador John Bolton to represent my Administration at his services.

It's no coincidence that the White House isn't doing more.

Mai Tran, an American of Vietnamese descent, grieves over the portrait of the late US senator during a memorial tribute at the US Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Nhac Nguyen / AFP / Getty Images

Mai Tran, an American of Vietnamese descent, grieves over the portrait of the late US senator during a memorial tribute at the US Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam.

The New York Times reported that Trump "continued to indulge a personal grievance" toward McCain.

McCain didn’t want Trump at his funeral, & Trump won’t or can’t bring himself to honor him. What happens when the president absents himself from a major moment of national mourning https://t.co/6emcroROt9

And the Washington Post reported that Trump intentionally "nixed issuing a statement that praised the heroism and life of Sen. John McCain" — even over the objections of top aides.

Trump nixed an official White House statement that labeled Sen. John McCain a "hero" and praised his life's service. Trump was quiet Sunday as tributes poured in to McCain, instead touting economic and poll numbers, bashing media & golfing. https://t.co/vAlM4VuPXp

Trump had a long-running feud with the Arizona senator, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, where he was tortured and kept in solitary confinement.

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“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said in 2015. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Last year, while he was still recovering from brain surgery, McCain bucked the party line and voted against repealing Obamacare in a dramatic showdown on the Senate floor.

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The so-called skinny repeal "offered no replacement to actually reform our health care system and deliver affordable, quality health care to our citizens," McCain said.

The move infuriated Trump, who took to lambasting it at rallies.

After bashing cancer-stricken John McCain, Trump urges crowd to blame Dems if their health care goes up, & also for the crisis on the southern border. "Just remember, if you see [premiums] going up it is Democrats' fault. And by the way, immigration? It is the Democrats' fault." https://t.co/kORhxtId6t

"It was done — repeal and replace Obamacare. It was done. Until early in the morning, a man walked in, and he said, 'thumbs down, thumbs down,'" the president told supporters in Nevada in June, almost a year after the incident. "That was not good. And nobody knew he was going to do that. He campaigned on repeal and replace. He campaigned for years — 'Repeal and replace.'"

McCain also issued a blistering statement criticizing Trump for suggesting that he believed Vladimir Putin's assurances that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election.

Yuri Kadobnov / AFP / Getty Images

“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory," McCain said. "The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate.

And earlier this month, Trump delivered remarks before signing the $716 billion John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act — without naming the senator once.

Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

According to US code, the White House is following the rules to the letter of the law.

US Code

However, the Department of Veterans Affairs website states that the president "can direct how the executive branch of the government flies the flag, including traditions or customs for flying the flag at half-staff."

But the Huffington Post reported that it would require a presidential proclamation to keep the flags at half-mast.

The White House didn't immediately return a request for comment.

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